This presentation will explore how psychotherapeutic understandings of empathy have been challenged and
deepened by recent scholarship in neuroscience, cognitive science, anthropology, and moral philosophy. We
have long assumed that empathy is necessary not only to the success of therapy but also to child development
and overall wellbeing. Many consider it fundamental among the so-called “common factors,” that is, a mental
state necessary to the success of any approach to therapy. Some now question these ideas.
Is it possible that empathy can lead to a kind of exhaustion or preoccupation, thus limiting our capacity to act
on our feelings? Perhaps, in feeling another’s pain, we come to believe, without cause, that it is necessarily
virtuous. Can autism be understood, as Simon Baron Cohen argues, as the absence of a particular kind of
capacity for empathy? Is empathy wired and activated only under particular circumstances? These and other
questions will be explored using ideas developed by the psychoanalyst/anthropologist, Douglas Hollan.
Participants will Learn:
1. How the social emotion, empathy (and empathy-like processes), has been understood in recent debates in philosophy, psychology, and anthropology.
2. How empathy has been understood as a ‘trial identification’ to discover, consciously or unconsciously, the emotional state of another.
3. How the terms, empathy and sympathy, are often used in confusing ways leave us with a limited understanding of compassion.
4. If recent work in cognitive science and neuroscience d current neuroscience offers and adequate understanding of empathy: as an elementary, involuntarycapacity which puts us in touch with the emotional state of another.
5. How empathy may limit, even inhibit, communication.
6. Are there specific cultural contexts where social scientists have recurrently encountered deep-seated assumptions concerning the limits of knowing other minds, what is often referred to in the literature as doctrines of “mental opacity.”